This Samaritans Awareness Day (24th July, 2021) we’re supporting hiring managers to actively listen.
Hopefully most accountants know about the amazing work of the UK charity Samaritans who operate help and chat lines 24 hours a day for anyone who is struggling with their mental health to reach out for support. The focus on all that Samaritans pr0vide is a really simple one, yet it’s a service that a lot of people in this country don’t seem to be able to access; listening.
So though we know that the Samaritans are always there for our colleagues, subordinates or managers should they ever experience a time of need, we thought we’d focus this week on how we can all make the effort to become active listeners, after all we never know when taking the time to listen might make all the difference.
But what is active listening?
Active listening is a valuable process in which a person truly hears, considers, responds and retains information that is being delivered by someone else.
And it would be easy to just assume that that’s the case in any conversation. But that would be wrong.
Many times when someone is speaking to us we are distracted, our minds are elsewhere or we may be hearing what we want to hear and not truly considering what the person is trying to tell us. We might interrupt or daydream, both signs that we are not truly engaged with what the person we’re listening to is telling us.
When someone is angry, upset or in turmoil and they make the decision to talk to someone, the way that the recipient of what they have to say listens to them, really has the power to make or break a situation.
And in the case of the Samaritans that can mean the difference between someone taking their own lives or not. A huge moment to make a difference.
But in a less intense situation, and one that you might be faced with regularly, actively listening to your staff and colleagues in the world of accountancy can increase happiness at work, reduce conflict, lead to greater rates of staff retention and improve employee health, wellbeing and productivity.
So active listening is a really crucial skill for a successful leader.
What does it take to actively listen?
1. Allocate protected time and pay attention.
If you don’t already offer your subordinates protected time to talk, consider making it a regular thing. And when the time comes for your monthly or quarterly one to ones, make sure you have protected time, free from external distractions (computer screen switched off, phone away, door closed) to actually pay attention to what they are saying.
Let them know how much time you have available and then ask questions and don’t interrupt their flow when they come to answer them.
2. Hold your opinions back.
When a member of staff contributes opinions or ideas that you don’t agree with, do your best to listen to them in full without passing judgement. Take the time to explore them if you can, you never know, they may be on to something! If what they have asked or suggested to you is outside the realms of possibility, sensitively explain why when you come to round up your discussion. Or if you’re not sure whether their suggestions are actionable, allow yourself some time to consider them and tell the employee when you will let them know what you’ve decided.
3. Check your understanding is correct.
Don’t walk away from a conversation with your version of what’s been said without checking it’s correct. Summarise your discussion with what you think you’ve heard and what you think you’ve both agreed to do about it. Be clear about timescales for follow up.
4. Don’t always expect to offer up all of the solutions or answers.
Sometimes people just need a listening ear to share their problems with. They won’t necessarily want (and it won’t always be appropriate for) you to step in and fix everything. Once you’ve truly listened, ask questions of your employee or colleague. Offer constructive challenge and criticism and make gentle suggestions about how they might attempt to solve the problems themselves. The age old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ describes this situation entirely. Often being actively heard is all the speaker needs to set themselves on the path to making things better.
Once you become skilled in the process of active listening you’ll soon find that it becomes a preventive technique you can use to boost and fortify the mental health and productivity of your team. An accountant who feels heard will be empowered to strive for better communication and outcomes at work. It’s a win win situation.
If you’re looking to recruit great communicators into your accountancy team, we’re on hand to support you. We work with a vast database of skilled and emotionally intelligent accountants who are ready and waiting for the next opportunity in their career to present itself.
Contact us today for an informal chat and we’ll get the ball rolling with all of your recruitment needs.
And should you or any of your team ever need an urgent listening ear, know that you can count on Samaritans as the ultimate listeners. Contact them 24 hours a day at 116 123.